Primate One-Upmanship: The Sunglasses Heist.

Well blow me down!  Half a world away from the wiley baboons of the Cape Peninsula, (South Africa) here in South East Asia,  Cambodia – the Angkor Wat troop of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) have similar tactics, grabbing an item and waiting for the gullible human to offer decoy food in exchange.

 

Co-conspirators waiting for the right break…..
Here they are: the gullible people, who dished out the biscuits and note the sunglasses worn by Mr.                                           “Oh, I am so cute, you will feed me….”, says Little Miss Long-Tail.
“There now, here’s the biscuit …. give me the glasses?”
“The handover; got the glasses, here have some more food…..”

There you have it.  Feed wild animals, habituate them to receiving food, they become pests and then they “steal” items in exchange for food.  Clever creatures.

Baboons in fynbos

Baboons play an integral role in the ecology of Fynbos vegetation and their diet is so varied within this plant system that it may be easier to note what they don’t eat rather than the extensive list of what they do!  I’ve been fortunate to sight a couple of the troops recently in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve while out cycling and have been able to observe their foraging.  After good rainfall this winter the vegetation is green and succulent and the animals are in good condition.  The temperature has also been colder than usual so it’s interesting to note their thick ‘winter coats’.

A confident posture and bearing marks this alpha male. He is in peak condition and commands respect from the ranks.
Layers of thick hair serve as protection from winter’s chilly temperature.
Foraging on the fruit of wild olive trees, Olea europaea subsp. africana.  
They tuck in with gusto feasting on the ripe black olives. I too sampled a couple curious to test the flavour. Pleasant enough, the initial bite was grape-like, and then with a bitter after taste.
It was most surprising to see this plant on the menu: Cullumia squarrosa, or snake thistle. It’s a prickly little number! I had in the past seen them eating the flowers, but not the the needle like leaves. Reading a description of the plant, the inner involucral bracts are without prickles and I noted that they were only plucking off the top most growth.
They certainly get a good portion of fiber in their diet.  This plant is endemic to the Cape Peninsula – a coastal bush found only in the extreme south western Cape.

The Perilous Sea around Cape Point _ Part II

The Atlantic Sea is rough and powerful on the western side of the Cape Peninsula coastline and it speaks of failed and doomed fishing exploitation.  Evidence of discarded fishing gear is everywhere, fishing nets, bundles of rope, plastic, gut lines, anchor weights, lobster traps.  Plastic detritus is in fabric of the sand, in the dried kelp line, between the rocks.  How did we get to this tipping point, how can we ever reverse the damage?  The despondency of it all is so overwhelming that it makes me want to curl up and weep.

In the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve there is a coastal path along the western side of Cape Point to Olifantsbos.  It is the wild side, a place of sea birds, baboons, seals.  There is no way to get close to this wild Cape fur seal and free it of from that line of rope so deeply embedded into its neck.

Fishing net hazard on beach Fishing nets hazard on beach Nylon rope discarded fishing gear Plastic sack degrading on beach Discarded fishing net on beach Discarded Cape lobster trap Discarded Cape lobster trap half buried in sand Discarded lobster trap washed up by sea Piles of discarded fishing rope washed up on the shore Cape lobster trap washed ashore Discarded fishing net on beach Mound of discarded fishing rope on beach

Zohra, the remaining Namib foal

Pitted against the predatory intentions of a spotted hyena clan, the day to day existence of the Namibs is perilous.  The situation has been hotly contested polarising the conservation community – there are those who are for the hyenas and support a policy of non-interference and those who strongly feel obligated towards relocating the horses to a place of safety, or moving the hyena.  The debate has been going on for years without much action from the conservation authorities until recently when the plight of the horses became critical.  Meetings were held between Minister Shifeta from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the Wild Horses Foundation last month with the MET concluding they would draw up a draft management plan, with further consultation “BY THE END OF MAY.”

Meanwhile as the weeks pass there is collective anxiety over the welfare of the remaining foal.  Checking the latest Namibia Wild Horses Facebook post she is still alive and doing well.  Named Zohra, – in Persian translates as “flower blossom” or in Arabic “Venus, jewel of the sky” which is so aptly descriptive of the white flash on her forehead.

Returning some months to the scenes on 22 February we watched, poised at the viewing site above the waterhole as pairs of horses came into view.  The first little foal looked very vulnerable, staying close to mother’s side –

 

We learned that it had been attacked by spotted hyenas (an injury which looked to be healing, was visible just above the belly on the left side), though it appeared to be coping.

As they moved off after drinking at the waterhole, the little one fell behind, lagging some distance.  Concern for it’s well being was justified as shortly afterwards this precious creature did not survive.

The second foal was smaller than the first, coming in on ungainly legs.  There she was – little Zohra with her mother Zen.

Into the waterhole she trotted, getting under underfoot and not quite too sure where she should stand.

If you’re interested in more information a good documentary by CNN is here.     Or follow the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation on Facebook for the latest updates.

 

 

The Namibs’ existence hangs in the balance

Tough drought conditions and hyena predation have taken a drastic toll on the wild horses and their numbers have dropped tragically from 286 to 76 over the last few years.  Sadly, since 2012 and up until late February, none of the foals have survived and the youngest mare is now 8 years old.  Yet could there be the slimmest chance that the wild horses can come back from the brink of extinction? Hope now rests with February’s newborn foal,  a little filly, just a couple of months old ……..

But let me pick up the story where i left off in the previous post!

As the horses drew closer to the water trough it appeared to us there was raucous delight in their greetings, upbeat nickering and neighing.   From a distance we could hear the thrum of galloping and watched in awe as a group of bachelor stallions came roaring in, stirring up dust clouds and arriving in a swirl of energy.

The scene was filled with their dynamic presence.  After slaking their thirst, it was time to sandbathe and attend to additional dietary needs by feeding on nutrient-rich dried manure.  Coprophagy is a natural behaviour and an energy-efficient way of deriving nutrients.  The Wild Horses’ manure contains almost three times more fat than the area’s dry grass (Stipagrostis obtusa) and almost twice as much protein (6.1 instead of 3.1%).*

Coprophagy manure adds nutrients to a sparse diet.

To give a contrasting glimpse at the hardships and the tough conditions which the Wild Namibs endure at the edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, here are a couple of shots taken in 2017.   Drought seared the land and the animals were so pitifully emaciated, but for the dedicated work undertaken by the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, it is doubtful whether they would survive.   Through the years the foundation has raised finances to provide supplementary feed for the horses as well as pursuing with dogged determination negotiations with the Namibian MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) in saving the herd from extinction.

Further details in my next post will reveal “Zohra, the Little Foal”.  Keep a lookout it’s coming soon!  Below is a link to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation and the critical work which they undertake.

 

* More information can  be found here.